Winfield backs away from Jets deal

Updated: July 2, 2004, 11:30 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

After being wined and dined by the New York Jets, free agent cornerback Antoine Winfield opted instead to play for the Minnesota Vikings.

He gets a six-year deal worth $34.8 million, including a $10.8 million signing bonus, ESPN's John Clayton reports. He will make $12.5 million overall in his first season, including the signing bonus, and $18 million over the first three years.

Antoine Winfield
Winfield

The five-year veteran, ESPN.com confirmed early Thursday evening, had reached agreement in principle with the Jets on a six-year deal worth $30 million and including a $10 million signing bonus. The contract would pay Winfield $18 million in the first three years of the deal.

But late in the evening, as the two sides were finalizing the deal, Winfield backed away for what sources described as personal reasons. And the Jets, who had been expected to introduce the newest addition to a rebuilding defense at a Friday news conference, lost out.

Despite intercepting just six passes in five seasons, Winfield, 26, is regarded as one of the top corners at the deepest position in free agency. The former Buffalo Bills first-rounder was to step into a void created by the release of veteran Aaron Beasley last week.

The Jets, it seems, did not want to let Winfield escape their complex without agreeing to a contract. They hosted Winfield and agent Richard Katz on Wednesday evening for a lavish dinner, and negotiations went late into the night.

The two sides resumed discussions on Thursday and made enough progress that Winfield delayed a scheduled flight to Minneapolis, where he was to have visited with Minnesota Vikings officials.

The Houston Texans were also pursuing Winfield and, during the course of negotiations with the Jets, continued to try to contract him on his cell phone.

Winfield lacks prototype cornerback stature but, at 5-feet-9 and 180 pounds, plays bigger than his size and is known for his aggressive approach to the game. His one shortcoming is a lack of big plays, as evidenced by his interception total, but that didn't seem to scare off any of his suitors.

The franchises that liked Winfield in free agency pointed out that opponents didn't often throw his way, but in fact the former Ohio State star does not have good hands and does not often jump in front of a pass route. The 23rd overall player chosen in the 1999 draft, Winfield has 409 tackles, one sack and 60 passes defensed.

He has started in 49 of his 63 appearances.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.